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An ode to freaks

The characters who make our lives worth living


Keeping Raleigh weird. - PHOTO BY ERIC SCHNEIDER
"Big man with a gun, huh?" Charlene sneered. "You such a bad-ass, why don't you pull the trigger?" I'm fine with that. People who wave guns about need to be castigated--except for one detail: the 38 was pressed into my temple. But that's Charlene: no-bullshit, fire-baptized native of the Green Swamp who forsook her Christian raisin', transforming herself into a full-fledged, fire-dancing, big-dawg, Witchie-mama at Wisteria, this pagan community in Ohio. 1

Oh my beloved freak friends--I keep them on a shelf in my head like Hummels. More and more, the good ones are accessible only through the medium of the non-physical. ODs, motorcycle crashes, cancer. That shelf is filling up.

Like Ashley, a self described "bum," black sheep of this crusty New York Illuminati family, owner of Sunset (undergoing restoration in Nantucket, renamed her Freedom. Get it? Sunset=Death= Freedom?)2--104 feet of mahogany, teak and rot--a Mathis-Trumpy yacht nearly identical to Sequoia, the old presidential yacht. Sunset had secret doors and, somewhere below, a death mask of Adolf Hitler complete with a narrative by a guard at Nuremberg who had owned it--all total horseshit. Ashley had worked on it for years.

Then he came down with cancer and asked me to shepherd him into the big nowhere. "I'm afraid," he said. During his slide, we would talk late at night, he lying in the bed where generations of his family had been born and died.

"Lucifer's not such a bad guy," he wheezed over the oxygen. "He's just misunderstood." I swear the lights flickered.

Oh, the places I've lived so much more hospitable to freakery: Florida, San Francisco, Manhattan. But despite the repressive, stultifying and unimaginative culture, the freaks seem freakier in the South--and Raleigh in particular. I know why.

"Oh, we don't do that in Raleigh," goes the refrain. Problem is that like cookie dough or clay squeezed in your hand, the more freaks get squeezed, the more they goosh between the cultural fingers of suppression, the stranger they get.

Freakery is a safety valve for misfits.

No one remembers Charlie Craven. Craven had the greatest job in the world: writing about greasy, long-gone Raleigh beer joints like the Blind Tiger and the Bucket of Blood in the The News and Observer. Charlie probably didn't think of himself as a freak, but anyone who didn't mind rain indoors (the old 42nd Street Oyster Bar had roof problems) qualifies in my little world. Maybe it was plumbism (lead poisoning) from the radiator shops on South Saunders, or years of swilling cheap beer, but his stuff got freakier and freakier until it made no sense at all. Perfect. This is for Cholly.

Cholly understood that freaks require habitats like Spotted Owls. In less sophisticated times, the South provided cover for your uncle who wore purple ascots and hung out at the "Teddy Bear Lounge." He was "different," but no one liked him less for it. It wasn't live-and-let-live so much as "they" simply had no idea what we were up to. Like, it took a semi-truck actually breaking through the overhead pavement and plunging into the abandoned basement of Dillon Supply Company for the cops to "discover" our totally full-of-beans "Satanic" graffiti on the walls and end years of the "Grotto" parties of the high Goth era. (LV U Bon Bon).

Charlie wouldn't recognize this town anymore. It's too clean and predictable. Even so, like any wild critter these days, the freaks endure, although diminished. You have to nurture them.

"What are you here for, Jon?" "I'm here to win the car, Bob." In two moves, Jon McClain won the "Showcase" on The Price is Right and walked out with a refrigerator for his mom and a brand new T-bird for Big Daddy, trading up to a tire-boilin' fuck-you yellow Corvette (license plate, "C'mon Down").

December, Jon dodged a battered wrecker crawling along I-85 and hooked a wheel off the pavement. Little Yellow Car swapped ends, passed the wrecker doing 75 backwards, bounced along the guardrail, slid back across the highway, a jumble of yellow fiberglass and wires. A lot of folks might have hung up their cleats, but unh-unh, not my Johnny. Before the bruises healed, he was behind the wheel of an even more lethal Z-06 in Darth Vader black.


Johnny Mac is a living, modern version of Melville's Queequeg, with this eerily perfect radio voice. He's got enough metal in his ears, dreads down to his ass and drives a 40-ton Freightliner for a living. He's an absolute rawk monster on the drums--Stillborn Christians, Prophets of Circe (a lesbian rock band), Picasso Trigger (who "violated your honor student", according to their bumper sticker) and most famously, Ugly Americans. John is big, really, really big, with a big heart and a big smile. But if you see him coming and you don't get out his way, the only thing you are gonna see in your rear view mirror is bumper. He might even give you a love tap.

"I just want everybody to be nice to one another," says Samuel Pittsford Garrison Hoyle-Seagondollar, 11, a little man with a big name (after the old warden at Central). Sammy used to live in a place called Sammmyland where he had many wives (the number varied). His luminous blue eyes are bullshit detectors able to see through walls.

Sammy is a rare woods creature, a sprite untainted by modernity who grew up in a forest, home-schooled, running barefoot through the fields and forests of western Wake County. His granddaddy helped build the A-Bomb. 3 Sammy'll thro' a Franklin County hoo-doo on yo ass big as the moon. Sammy plucked a hundred from my fingers. I may as well have been trying to catch a bird.

"What's happening in Sammyland these days?" I asked.

"I haven't been in a while."

"What happened?"


Glimpsing other dimensions takes a visa. For me, it was this kooky stuff called Diemethyltryptamine,4 which Alan Watts likened to being fired out of an "atomic cannon"--definitely not kid stuff. My first encounter with "Dimitri" came one sunshiny day. A friend summoned me from one of the wooden picnic tables at this joint.

"Hit this." He handed me a stem.

I glanced at the end. White. I cut him a look.

"It's not that. " I rolled the dice. Within seconds, the picnic table was streaming hieroglyphics.

"I don't know if I like this."

"You'll be fine."

Then I was in this world composed of some sort of shiny ceramic tile. The sky, the land, everything was this flattened mosaic, populated by these Aztec bird/reptile people who knew an awful lot about Ford trucks. After about 4,000 years, I drifted home, noticing then that the clock had only advanced 20 or so minutes.

George Lynch lives there full-time. His yard is full of bones, claws, odd small lights twinkling in the dark, soft music that seems to come from nowhere and everywhere the night I came calling. Heads, some real, (a mummified English Mastiff) some by his hand, show faintly in the dark, eyes glimmer in the faint light of the moon--a lot like doing DMT, only less sparkly. Later, in the cool, gloomy sepulcher of Lizzy's under Martin Street, we sat at the bar and talked over whiskey.

"Folks have this wholly incorrect notion that reality is a string of beads."

"It's a ball," said Lynch.

"It's an onion."

"It is like an onion."

"You go from one layer to another."

And no one gets out of here dead.

For an experiment, since I figured the more freaks know other ones, the better, I arranged a meet and greet with Jon, Sammy and his pop in Lynch's macabre studio--like herding cats.

My instincts had been spot on. Everybody was on the same wavelength, infused with the knowledge of the true transdimensionalist: that we are what we were and that we have always known each other and everybody has been their own mother--we've all been a bug squashed on the windshield for a million years.

"I'm the Prince of Evil, " murmured Sammy.

"I thought you were all peace and love," Jon said.


We spent the afternoon exploring Lynch's nightmarish mélange of body parts. Jon stuck stones in his eyes and bones in his hair. Sammy pretended the mastiff head was his own. It was a family reunion of people who didn't know they were family until that day. There was a critical mass of shared strength--synergy--in that cluttered yard that day, a bastion of freakery against the beige sludge of conformity. Strength is gained by the knowing of others. Like string theory, what happens to one affects the other.

Jon and Lynch move some of the spiky sculptures and logs aside. Lynch flops in the dirt. As I watch, big ole Jon lofts the old dude in the air by his legs, spinning him higher and higher, until Lynch's britches slide off and he's nearly launched into the next yard like a shot putt. It makes absolutely no sense. I stand there, laughing, tears squirting out of my eyes. Is this what it's all about?

"Yes," I answer myself quietly, "this is what it's all about."

1. www.witchvox.com/festivals/fest_psg04.html

2. www.thewestmoorclub.com/yachts.html

3. www.childrenofthemanhattanproject.org/HISTORY/H-06c16.htm

4. dmt.lycaeum.org

The curious might also want to read The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman M.D. (www.rickstrassman.com)

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